By Crissy Carceres
Every realization of a beautiful and worthwhile vision begins with a dream, and The Future Diversity Symposium held at GDS on September 28-30 is no different.
The Symposium began with an ambitious purpose: “to robustly position diversity and equity as foundational touchstones and luminous beacons for independent schools.” As we designed the Symposium, our agreed upon starting points were that broad diversity is essential to a school’s learning and living community and that independent schools’ very survival, in light of rapid demographic shifts, requires successful navigation of the diversity/equity landscape.
In all, 145 leaders from around the nation came together in teams that included Heads of School, Trustees, and Diversity Practitioners, from 43 schools. We also welcomed special guests from the National Association of Independent Schools, The United States Department of Education, Independent School Magazine, and more. Our own GDS team consisted of Russell Shaw, as Head of School, David Leary, as Chair of the Board Diversity Committee, and me, as the Diversity Practitioner. We truly enjoyed working together and delving into the core mission grounding our GDS world.
Participants communicated experiences in our schools; we thought about the correlation between our schools’ missions and actions; we learned about the art of “Participatory Leadership” (an approach that cultivates shared ownership and voice around equity and diversity work at GDS) as a leadership tool to positively guide our work; and we brainstormed together, sharing best practices.
By the three days’ end, each team had developed an action plan connected to diversity, equity, and inclusion that they were enthusiastic about and invested in launching within their school communities. The energy in our library was palpable, and it spoke to the effervescent, collective commitment from all!
GDS’s action plan includes:
- A commitment to transparent communication and action around diversity and equity for every member in our community – We will identify prioritized points of need and attention and create intentional action steps to address them. (i.e., continued focus and action connected to the hiring and retention of faculty and staff of color and deepened attention on the social, emotional, and academic health of our students).
- An approach to our work that engages all members of our community – Through strong professional development experiences, increased opportunities for dialogue and leadership development among our students, and a continued partnership with current and alumni families in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion at GDS, we will practice the notion that this important work belongs in the hands, hearts, and minds of everyone.
- Working towards ensuring that our student/family population reflects the greater DC Metro Area – One of the points of connection to our Strategic Plan continues to be the increased diversification of our student body in ways that reflect the breadth of diversity found in our surrounding communities. Our students’ need for windows and mirrors in which they can see their lives reflected continues to be a priority.
- Building on our strong points of connection – Within the Office of Diversity and Equity, we are working to build authentic connections with various departments and leaders that allow for the diversity, equity, and inclusion work to be fully integrated into what we do (i.e. Teaching and Learning and Community Service/Service Learning).
The common theme expressed in our plan (and in that of many schools) centers on the continuation of authentic learning, growth, and critical analysis of what is working and what deems attention. Throughout it all, I have been and continue to be encouraged by the earnest commitment from our leadership, families, faculty, staff, and students to the mission-led work that is the heartbeat of the GDS family. As such, we aim to continue leading this effort of sharing forward best practices with schools throughout the nation, while also establishing points of accountability for one another that help us to be constructively critical about commitments made.
We are now starting to collect and analyze the feedback from Symposium participants, seeking to inform our next Future of Diversity Symposium experience. One thing we’re working on for next year: alongside a Symposium for visiting schools, we are seeking to have a concurrent abbreviated experience for our own students, faculty, staff, and family to explore key issues and ideas related to our journeys and truths, in our school, within our contemporary time and experiences. As we come closer to defining this dream, we will update you and engage your thoughts.
As I stated during my Opening Reflection to all Symposium participants about the role of Diversity Practitioner and the work that we do each day, “We are on the ground level of this experience, holding the heartbeat of our schools in our hands and speaking to the mission from a practice oriented lens. Our aim is to build the capacity and consciousness within each member in our community to feel compelled to join us in true and unrelenting partnership in this critical and life-saving work. To do anything less is simply not an option. Therefore, thank you for taking this step towards a shared vision, shared dialogue, shared accountability, and shared resolve.”
Truly, thank you all.